After opening the season with consecutive close losses, the Winslow High School girls tennis team reeled off three consecutive wins, a step forward for a program that graduated five of last season’s top seven players, including all three singles players.

Kate Larsen moved up from doubles to the No. 1 singles spot, where she’s learning to compete against the top players in the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference.

“With Kate, every single match has been competitive,” Winslow coach Linda McCann said. “She hasn’t seen that level of competition, but boy oh boy, she has risen to it.”

Emily Manocchio and Sammi Decker were a combined 9-1 at No. 2 and 3 singles, respectively, through Thursday’s win over Maine Central Institute. “It’s allowed us to field a roster with kids in other spots, despite not playing a lot of varsity tennis. They’ve really stepped up,” McCann said.

Susan Grant and Desiree Veilleux are the Black Raiders first doubles team, with Danielle Berard and Elizabeth Farnham playing well at second doubles.

A season-opening 3-2 loss to perennial contender Waterville was a disappointment, but it showed the Black Raiders they’re making progress.

“That was the closest we have ever come to beating (Waterville). After that, the girls said, ‘hey, we’re not bad.’ That gave them some confidence,” McCann said.

Unlike some schools, there’s no long-standing tennis culture at Winslow, McCann said. Most players pick up their racket on the first day of practice, put it down when the season is over, and move on to something else. In this group, McCann sees a group having fun as it learns the game and improves.

“They go on the court and they find opportunities to gain confidence,” McCann said. “They’re actually starting to analyze their own game. You can see them talking to themselves and coaching themselves through situations.”

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The Mt. Blue boys lost all three singles players to graduation, and it’s faced some of the top teams in the KVAC in the early going. Still, coach Zac Conlogue likes the way his team has played in new roles in difficult circumstances.

Brothers Tom and Chris Marshall have moved into the top two singles spots. Tom Marshall, a senior, spent the last three seasons playing first doubles for the Cougars.

“It’s been a bit of a shock. Against Lewiston (which beat Mt. Blue in the regional final last season, 3-2) they were all nervous,” Conlogue said. “It’s been a learning experience. They’ve never been the guy the team relied on before.”

The Cougars are in the middle of a tough stretch that includes matches against Bangor, Mt. Ararat, Hampden, and Brewer.

“We have four of the top seven (teams) in the next week,” Conlogue said.

Like many teams in the area, Mt. Blue is getting antsy as the rain washes out matches. To keep the team engaged, Conlogue introduced fun drills at practice. One gets all 15 members of the team on the court together in a team game in which players must hit the ball using certain shots a number of times before they’re allowed to let loose and return the ball hard.

“They have to hit it a certain number of times before they smash it at each other. They have a lot of fun,” Conlogue said.

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The state singles tournament will begin Saturday with the regional qualifying round. The five regional sites are Caribou High School (Region 1), Bangor High School (Region 2), Brunswick High School (Region 3 boys), Mt. Ararat High School (Region 3 girls), Lewiston High School (Region 4), South Portland, Waynflete School and Cape Elizabeth High School (Region 5 boys), and Deering High School, Cheverus High School, and Portland’s Payson Park (Region 5 girls).

The Round of 48 and Round of 32 are scheduled for May 26 at Colby College in Waterville, with the Round of 16 and quarterfinals also at Colby on May 27.

Championship semifinals and finals are set for Bates College in Lewiston on May 29.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM